Mitsubishi i-car 2008 Review

Mitsubishi i-car fq

Mid-engined and rear-wheel drive are phrases usually associated with the words supercar and astronomically expensive. Or perhaps a motorbike. The Mitsubishi i-car has an engine that wouldn’t be out of place in a motorbike. At 660cc it’s a tiny unit more befitting of something with Kawasaki scrawled on the side, but when you mix that with a turbocharger, an intercooler and the fact that the i-car weighs as much as two wafers, it becomes a fairly sprightly vehicle, ripping through the first couple of cogs of the four-speed auto with ease.

It should come as no surprise then that this is a city car. It’s exceptionally small, fitting into Japan’s kei car category which qualifies it for parking concessions in its motherland, where it was also Car of the Year in 2006.

While I happily drove it all over Auckland’s beautiful and free flowing grid of immaculately kept motorways, it’s noisy at speed and gets blown around in a crosswind on its skinny tyres 145/65R15 front tyres and 175/55R15 rear tyres. But, it’s damn near perfect for weaving between the high rises, ducking up narrow back alleys and parking in spaces you would fit a half of a Rolls-Royce Phantom in.

Freed of the tribulations of propelling the car, and situated almost beyond the corners, the front wheels turn the i-car 180-degrees in only 4.5m. That’s less than one-third of the 14.36m the Land Rover Defender 110 that’s currently in the Car and SUV garage can manage.

The rear wheels are also situated on the extremities and, for a car that’s only 3.4m long, this gives the narrow i-car a surprising amount of room inside for the four passengers.

The interior is relatively tasteful. A giant digital speed readout is surrounded by the rev counter, with further digital displays for fuel and engine temperature. This rev counter shows almost 4000rpm at 110kph, making it a tad harsh and noisy for travelling long distances on the open road. I am a fan of the engine sound, but I’ll guarantee the i-car’s target audience will want less decibels.

A rather gaudy flashing stereo and CD player sits high in the centre of the dash. This had a fairly good sound, but the reception from the stubby aerial dropped out early.

A couple of airbags are perfectly adequate at city speeds, especially with the included ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution, and the design which sees the engine placed to absorb rear impacts, and the fuel tank located more centrally.

The i-car will drive a long way on its 35-litre tank of fuel, as it frugally sips just 5.43l/100km — you hardly need to spend twice the amount buying a hybrid when this car will nearly match them, in-part, helped by an aerodynamic underbody and its 900kg kerb weight. It will also match or beat many other economical cars in the acceleration stakes. Sure, 11 seconds to 100kph isn’t going to set your hair on fire, but you can win the traffic light grands prix with some quick reflexes.

The gecko-green i-car got more looks than the Hummer H3 I was driving the week before. It would make a fantastic promotional vehicle except that Mitsubishi neglected to put a boot blind in, so you cannot hide anything in the interior. The remainder of the cabin has scant storage as well.

But if you were going to use it as a promotional car and didn’t care about the boot blind, what do you get? Well, a body shape that would be easy to apply graphics to, wide opening doors, and rear seats that fold flat to give a useful cargo area. It would undoubtedly be cheap to insure, wielding only 48kW from the three-cylinder engine, and the petrol bills would be meagre. There’s also a convenient keyless unlock, start, stop and lock — just keep the remote in your pocket.

It makes perfect sense as a city car — frugal, highly manoeuvrable with excellent visibility all-round, and easy to fit in the tightest of parking spaces. Driving it around the city is entertaining. It understeers predictably if the right-hand pedal isn’t moderated, but the fact that the i-car’s capabilities are so easy to explore makes it an engaging drive.

Price: from $17,990

What we like

  • Highly manoeuvrable
  • Frugal
  • Eye-catching

What we don’t like

  • Skittish in crosswinds
  • Engine is noisy (though it sounds good)
  • Interior storage is scant
Safety
Air bag (driver, passenger)
Engine/Transmission
3B20 (660cc) DOHC MIVEC Intercooled turbo
Fuel octane – regular unleaded
4 Speed automatic
Transmission shift knob – PVC
2WD (rear axle drive)
Suspension
Front suspension – Macpherson strut with coil spring
Stabiliser
Rear suspension – 3 link De Dion
Brakes
Park brake – lever type
4 wheel ABS with EBD
Front disc 13″
Rear drum 8″
Steering
Power steering
Steering lock
Steering wheel – 3 spoke urethane
Wheels
15″ steel with wheel cover
Tire front – 145/65R15
Tire rear – 175/55R15
Tire repair kit
Operating Hardware
Centre door lock
Keyless entry with 1 transmitter
Alarm (horn, turn & buzz)
Child proof rear doors
Power windows
Door outer handle – colour key
Door inside handle – silver IZ model
Door inside handle – black IA model
Glass
Glass colour – green
Windshield glass – laminated & IR cut
Privacy glass
Tailgate glass with hot wire
Seats & seat belts
Seating capacity – 4 persons
Driver’s seat – slide, recline, height adjuster
Assistant seat – slide, recline adjuster
Rear seat – split back & fold with recline
Child restraint for ISO-FIX
Front seat belt – 3 point with ELR X 2
Pretensioner with force limiter
Rear seat belt – 3 point with ELR & ALR X 2
Instrument panel & consoles
Glovebox
Cup holder & tray
Passenger cup holder
Instrument panel upper box with lid
Floor console
Trim panel & soft trims
Front door trim – formed type with door pocket
Rear door trim – formed type
Floor mats & carpets – needle punch
Convenience items
Vanity mirror with lid & ticket holder – driver side
Vanity mirror with lid & ticket holder – passenger side
Electric door mirror – black
Foot rest
Roof spoiler with stop lamp
Heater & air conditioning
A/C (full auto)
Heat & A/C control – dial type
Chassis electrical
Halogen headlamps with levelling device
Front room lamp
Windshield wipe with variable intermittent
Rear window wiper & washer
Digital speedometer
Tachometer
Trip meter
Seat belt warning lamp (driver only)
Lighting monitor buzzer
Ignition key reminder
Seat belt warning buzzer
Reverse buzzer
Electrical accessories
AM/FM radio single MP3 CD
Speakers (front speaker x 2 & front tweeter x 2) 4
Roof antenna
Accessory socket on instrument panel
Engine 660CC DOHC MIVEC intercooled turbo
Transmission 4 Speed Auto
Displacement (cc) 660
Max power (DIN) kW @ rpm 48 @ 6,000
Max torque (DIN) Nm @ rpm 95 @ 3,000
Bore & stroke (mm) 65.4 x 65.4
Compression ratio 8.8:1
Fuel consumption – l/100km 5.4
CO2 – g/km 128
Fuel Regular unleaded
Tank capacity (litres) 35
Overall length (mm) 3,395
Overall width (mm) 1,475
Overall height (mm) 1,600
Wheelbase (mm) 2,550
Front track (mm) 1,310
Rear track (mm) 1,270
Kerb weight (kg) 900
Ground clearance (mm) 150
Turning radius (m) 4.5
Cargo capacity with rear seats up 268 litres
Cargo capacity with rear seats folded down 798 litres

Words and photos Darren Cottingham


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